The Bible is the best school of Prayer. Various Christian Seminars and Courses on Prayer try to teach the theory and techniques of prayer (borrowed from various religions and cults), often with doubtful results. But the reality of prayer lies in an encounter with the true God and, besides the Blessed Sacrament, it is the Bible, God's written word, that mediates in a very unique and special way this loving and powerful Presence.
Jesus tells us how important the prayer of petition is: "Ask, and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks, receives..." (Matt.7:7-11). St. James too wrote: "If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith..." (Jas.1:5)
But for what are we are to ask, to seek, to knock? The sacrament of Confirmation brings us seven-fold gifts of the Spirit, many of them meant to help us discern God's will for our personal, day-to-day lives. These gifts are: "…the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord" (Isa.11:2). ['Fear' here means 'piety', reverence, wonder, not craven fear]. We can ask God to renew these gifts within us (see 2Tm.1:6) and, using for example Paul's prayers (praying them in the first person), we can receive a transformation of our thinking (Rm.12:2) and a moulding of our Christian character. Here are a few examples:
- "Lord, I pray that (my) love may grow richer and richer, with knowledge and all discernment, so that (I) can recognise and approve what is the best, and be pure and blameless for the Day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ, to (your) glory and praise" (Phil.1:9ff).
- "I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give (me) a spirit of wisdom and of revelation to come to know him, so that with the eyes of (my) heart enlightened, (I) may know what is the hope to which he has called (me), what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe!" (Eph.1:17-19).
- "God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, fill (me) with the knowledge of your will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to lead a life worthy of you, fully pleasing to you, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God. May (I) be strengthened with all power, according to your glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to (You), who have qualified (me) to share in the inheritance of the saints, in the realm of light" (Col.1:9ff).
- "I bow my knees before you Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of your glory, You will grant me a mighty inner strengthening through your Spirit; that Christ may dwell in my heart through faith; that being rooted and grounded in love, I may have the power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, in order that I may be filled with all the fullness of God!" (Eph.3:16-21).
The most widely-used biblical prayer of all is, of course, the one taught to us by Jesus Christ himself, the Our Father, in which the petitions focus mostly on spiritual blessings. Therefore, Paul has learnt how to pray from Jesus himself, and can boldly say, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (Phil.3:17). Christ's mind-set, Paul's mind-set, can become our prayer mind-set too, so that we learn to ask not just for material blessings, but for what the Bible teaches us is more important. By using biblical prayers, we will begin habitually to think, and then to desire, and eventually to pray mostly for true and important spiritual blessings.
Moreover, we will find that these prayers are more frequently being answered, that we are receiving new life, new inner peace, deep joy and fulfilment, a new experience of the Lord's power and presence and love. All this in turn will be empowering us to fulfil more spontaneously Jesus' ever relevant commandment, "Love one another, as I have loved you" (Jn.13:34f). And that, finally, is the whole purpose of our being praying Christians in the modern world.
(Note that besides the N.T., the Psalms are a wonderful school of prayer, teaching us not only the prayer of petition for every human circumstance, but also the prayer of contemplation, of adoration, of thanksgiving, of praise, etc. Another article will treat these).